(Photo © Adams Carroll)
Opposition to the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) took center stage at this morning’s meeting of the Project Sponsor’s Council (PSC). From a protest outside the meeting, to over one hour of public testimony — the project’s key players heard that the project remains disliked by many people.
Opposition to the project, along with strengthening criticisms from Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Metro President David Bragdon were enough today to delay a vote on a package of “refinements” to the project made by CRC staff. Backers of the project hoped that the PSC would vote in support of that package (which trimmed $650 million off the project cost), moving the project forward toward construction as early as 2012.
re-gifted us with
the same old crap!”
Outside this morning’s meeting, a protest action organized by the Stop the CRC! coalition drew attention from the media and passersby. The protestors waved anti-CRC flags, held signs, and there was even a bit of street theater. Stop the CRC! activist Shannon Palermo led her cohorts in a re-enactment of Christmas morning. When they looked into their gift from the CRC, Palermo said, “Oh look, they’ve given us the same old crap we’ve been sold for generations now… 10 lanes, 12 lanes, it’s still the same crap. CRC, you’ve re-gifted us… very tacky!”.
In the Port of Portland headquarters where the meeting took place, an overflow crowd packed into a room and public testimony started the meeting off. Right from the start, Hayden Island resident Ed Garren laid into the project, setting a tone that would continue throughout the over one-hour of comments. Garren said CRC staff is “railroading through these refinements” and that he and fellow island residents “are getting shafted.”
showed up in force today.
(Photo © J. Maus)
“This bridge started out like a beautiful Lexus hybrid, now it’s a 20-year old Volvo that needs a ring job.”
Garren was the first in a long line of concerned Hayden Island residents. They are particularly upset by how the package of project refinements being proposed would pave over a central part of their community, including a Safeway, the only grocery store and pharmacy on the island.
As I heard person after person (everyone from young activists to senior citizens) testify against this project it became clear that the momentum was shifting. There’s simply no way elected officials and bigwigs can deny the extreme discontent many feel about the direction this project is going. The feeling in the room was in stark contrast to the tugboat-on-the-river photo op taken by Governor Kulongoski yesterday and the editorial in today’s Oregonian urging the project to move forward immediately.
“Every month this project is delayed, more people will not be able to pay health care, pay for their homes… I urge you to move this forward.”
— testimony from a man representing the construction industry
The project did have some support today. One woman representing business interests in Clark County, Washington said “If we intend to compete in the global economy, we must invest in our freight infrastructure… the business community is behind this project.”
A man from the construction trades said his industry is “in a depression” and that up to 40% of his tradesmen and women are out of work. “Every month this project is delayed, more people will not be able to pay health care, pay for their homes… I urge you to move this forward.”
North Portland resident Walter Valenta, who has been active on this project for many years, said this is all just one of many “milestones” the project has faced. “This is the belt-tightening milestone, but as we tighten our belt it’s important we don’t sell out the values of our community.”
The most moving testimony of the day was a senior citizen from Hayden Island named Pam. She broke down in tears as she expressed confusion and sadness that this project would take away her “only source of fresh foods and pharmaceuticals.” “I need our Safeway store,” she cried as she displayed a basket full of pill bottles, “You need to think before you tear down a store… please think this over seriously.”
Michelle Poyourow of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) said this new plan does no better in giving them what they want — a “great bike route and healthy neighborhoods on both sides of the river” — than the previous one. “The first plan failed, and the plan you’re considering today also fails. Show this region a truly green project we can support!”
When the avalanche of opposition was over, CRC staff presented details of their refinement package. After a presentation, PSC members finally got a chance at some candid dialogue.
Mayor Adams continued to pressed for taking more time and for having more frequent meetings to hammer out more improvements (based on the policy statement he issued with Bragdon yesterday). Backers of the project and CRC have created a sense of urgency for the project based on what they say are federal funding timelines, but Adams pushed back on that: “There’s no firm deadline from the feds to have the application considered… We do have more time than today or next month in terms of addressing some of these issues that we have.”
ODOT director Matt Garrett disagreed with Adams, saying “I think we need to move forward on this.”
TriMet GM Fred Hansen chimed in by stating something that by this time had become obvious: “Without consensus, I think it’s getting near impossible [to move forward].”
Metro President David Bragdon added what might have been the most lethal blow to the project to date. He said the refinement package as the “same flaws that were in the original proposal” and that “we’ve lost sight of the goals we set.” The particular goal Bragdon focused on was that the project would make Hayden Island “a better place”.
Bragdon added that “I cannot vote for any more blank checks for this project.” PSC Chair Henry Hewitt shot back with “I don’t see much benefit about discussing the points you’ve raised. I think you’re wrong about losing sight of original goals.”
Mayor Adams also raised a concern that was one of the early criticisms of this project — that funding it would drain federal transportation coffers for many years to come and “cannibalize other projects”.
In the end, Chair Hewitt decided to reconvene the PSC in January and said all staff would try to work more closely together on further refinements, performance measures, livability issues, Hayden Island, and so on.
The meeting has to be seen as a victory for Mayor Adams and David Bragdon, whose concerns were echoed by many citizens today. For anti-CRC activists and advocacy groups, there’s no indication that the project will be “re-started” or killed completely any time soon, but at least they’ve helped get it delayed; and with this project, delay could end up being fatal.
Additional reporting for this story by Adams Carroll.